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Asteroid Hunters Discover Near-Earth Object with New Camera

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Old July 16th 03, 01:03 AM
Ron Baalke
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Default Asteroid Hunters Discover Near-Earth Object with New Camera

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NEWS RELEASE: 2003-099 July 15, 2003

Asteroid Hunters Discover Near-Earth Object with New Camera

NASA astronomers in pursuit of near-Earth asteroids have already made
a discovery with the newly installed Quasar Equatorial Survey, or
'Quest,' camera mounted in mid-April on Palomar Mountain's 1.2-meter
(48-inch) Oschin telescope.

"The Quest camera is still undergoing commissioning trials," said Dr.
Steven Pravdo, project manager for the Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking
Project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "But
that doesn't mean we can't do some real science in the meantime. What
we found was a near-Earth asteroid, estimated to be about 250 meters
(820 feet) in size."

The detection of the near-Earth object, 2003 NL7, occurred on the
evening of July 8. It has been confirmed by follow-up measurements
from three other observatories and subsequently certified by the
official clearinghouse of the solar system's smaller inhabitants, the
Minor Planet Center. While 2003 NL7 has been labeled a near-Earth
asteroid, it is considered non-hazardous, with a 2.97-year orbit of
the Sun in which its closest approach to Earth's orbit is about 25.1
million kilometers (15.6 million miles).

The Quest camera is being developed as a multi-purpose instrument by
Yale and Indiana universities with Dr. Charles Baltay, chairman of
Yale's physics department, as the principal investigator. It is
designed for use in detecting and characterizing quasars, near-Earth
asteroids, trans-Neptunian objects, supernovas, and a large variety of
other astrophysical phenomena, by scientists from Yale, JPL and the
California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The complex camera
consists of 112 electronic chips known as charged coupled devices
(CCDs) arranged over the Oschin telescope's focal plane. This gives
the Quest camera 161-megapixel capability. By comparison, a good
store-bought digital camera would probably be in the four-megapixel

"When Quest becomes operational, it will be a significant advancement
for the Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking team," said Dr. Raymond Bambery,
the Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking Project's principal investigator. "We
expect the new camera to increase the efficiency of detection of
near-Earth asteroids by some 3 to 4 times that of the camera it
replaced. This will make a major contribution to NASA's goal of
discovering more than 90 percent of near-Earth objects that are
greater that 1 kilometer (.62 mile) in diameter by 2008."

The Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking System is managed by JPL for NASA's
Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of
Caltech. More information on the Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking Program
is available at http://neat.jpl.nasa.gov/ .


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